2004-04-14 / Front Page

Call For Cameras Along Drag Strip Where 2 Were Struck

By John Toscano

Call For Cameras Along Drag Strip Where 2 Were Struck

By John Toscano

As two teenage friends remained hospitalized in critical condition after being struck by hit/run drag racers last Thursday evening, public officials called for installation of cameras along the Francis Lewis Boulevard drag strip in Fresh Meadows to avert further mayhem.

Among the latest developments, NY1 News, a cable television station, reported that a security camera at St. Francis Prep H.S. not far from the drag strip may have recorded the car that struck the two youngsters, who are both freshmen at St. Mary’s H.S. in Manhasset. Police were said to be reviewing the tape.

City Councilmembers David Weprin and John Liu called for passage of legislation that would authorize the installation of cameras along Francis Lewis Boulevard from 73rd Avenue to the Long Island Expressway to detect vehicles speeding. The bill would authorize issuance of tickets by mail and would carry fines and driver penalty points.

The so-called "red eye" cameras are already in operation in various parts of the borough.

Weprin (D–Hollis) stated: "Francis Lewis Boulevard has for decades been notorious for drag racing. Numerous accidents and fatalities have occurred on this boulevard because of drag racing and the excessive speeds at which the vehicles are driven.We need action now."

Weprin also had a simple solution to ending the drag racing; install a traffic light midway along the racing strip. "It would ruin it as a racing strip," he predicted.

Liu (D–Flushing), chairman of the Transportation Committee declared: "It’s time for the state legislature to pass the legislation that will allow our city to install these ‘speeding cameras.’ Doing so will make our streets safer and save lives."

The speedway falls within both Weprin and Liu’s Council Districts.

The bill the councilmembers alluded to is already pending in the Assembly where it is sponsored by Assemblymember Michael Cohen (D–Forest Hills).

Cohen said because of privacy concerns, the bill limits the use of the camera images only to issuing speeding tickets, but, he added, "more than DWI or pedestrian mistakes, it’s speed that kills."

Miraculously, the two victims, Saverio Sportello, 14, and Christiana Vroulis, 15, survived, although they remain in critical condition in New York Hospital Medical Center of Queens.

At about 9 p.m. Thursday evening, Sportello of Floral Park and Vroulis of Little Neck were on their way to a movie with two other friends, Cris Kamali, 16, and Heather Scalisi, 14.

As they began to cross Francis Lewis Boulevard near the Long Island Expressway (LIE), police said, two cars going north ran through a red light. One of the cars struck Sportello and Vroulis and sped away. Their two friends were spared any injury.

Later on, police recovered one vehicle allegedly involved in the hit/run. They interviewed the reported owner of the 1995 dark red Ford Taurus, which had a shattered windshield and blood on the driver’s seat.

Police determined the owner, a woman, had not been involved in the accident. She was not charged and was released. Police, however, said they were searching for a male friend of hers.

The second car, a tan Honda, was still being sought.

Drag racing on Francis Lewis Boulevard has been going on for many years and flourishes in the spring and summer. Several years ago, District Attorney Richard Brown conducted a crackdown in which arrests were made and cars were seized. For a time the races abated. However, not long after they resumed and continue to be a hazard for drivers and pedestrians alike.

Youthful drivers gather in fast food restaurant parking lots everywhere from Flushing to Bayside and Little Neck. Casual conversations lead to challenges, and before long opposing vehicles are lining up on the drag strip. Often the cars being raced are souped up with special high performance equipment and may even be brought on flatbed trucks to the racing scene.

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